Gothamist is about New York for sure, but there are some things that have the power to go beyond the tri-state area. And those things would be pandas. So, as a way to divert our sluggish August minds to something fun, Gothamist will recount our visit to sunny Southern California last week where some of our favorite black-and-white mammals reside. Gothamist got (sorta) up close and personal with the pandas when we visited the San Diego Zoo's Panda Exhibit.

Visitors see Mei Sheng (in tree) and Bai Yun

Thanks to the nice people at the zoo's publicity department, Gothamist got a chance to speak with zoo keeper Kim Bacon, who has been at the San Diego Zoo working with the pandas since 1998. Some fun things we learned about adult pandas Bai Yun and Gao Gao and baby cub Mei Sheng:

- Zoo keepers start their day at 6AM by getting "visuals" on the pandas. Pandas sleep indoors, in interior rooms, and are weighed before they are taken outside. If you ever wondered how you weigh a panda, take notes: They place the pandas on scales with food, so they are occupied. Then the pandas are let out into the outdoor exhibit areas, and then their bedrooms are disinfected.

- Pandas eat primarily bamboo and a high fiber biscuit during the day. Mei Sheng is still nursing, but will gnaw on bamboo - though not necessarily digest it; he'll move onto bamboo in a couple more months. Bai Yun, the adult female, will get an apple; she has a sweet tooth and Bacon referred to her as a "chowhound." Bacon recounted an instance where Bai Yun was snacking on some especially tasty bamboo that was hanging above her; the panda had managed to eat most of the stalk, but there was still a piece dangling, tantalizing her. Bai Yun reached for it, clamped her teeth onto it and then bamboo branch lifted her and spun her around, finally falling to the ground when she opened her mouth.

Something Gothamist found interesting is that zoo keepers are constantly exploring the different kinds of bamboo the pandas like. Apparently, one kind of bamboo decorated the exhibit while the pandas were fed a different kind. The pandas ditched the bamboo they had been given and preferred the decorations, perhaps because the decorative bamboo had more complex carbohydrates.

During the day, the panda keepers check their "fecals" to monitor their diets. [Amusingly, the volunteer that reads panda facts in the exhibits explained "pandas have 15-20 poops a day...Gothamist had a good giggle over that.]

- Mei Sheng, the one year old panda cub, can still be handled pretty easily, as long as his mother Bai Yun is not around. However, Bacon said that it's not as fun as you'd imagine to have a 50 pounds cub trying to climb your leg.

Gothamist thanked Bacon for her time and went to check out the exhibit three time. It's not that big, but has a long snaking line, similar to a line for tickets, to maximize panda viewing. The lines were long even at 11AM. Our tip: Go to the zoo early and make the pandas your first exhibit to check out. Basically, that's the theory behind what you do at any amusement park - go early and go to the most popular ride first.


Gao Gao, the adult male, was laying on his tree trunk, just hanging out. He looked extremely comfortable.


Bai Yun likes to sit with her back to visitors (we know this from extensive Panda Cam watching) but she did turn for a moment - and tried to hide behind her paw.


Mei Sheng was happily perched in a tree. The volunteer said that we saw him fall, it's okay - he's learning about hanging in trees and can stand the drop.


And when we came in for the third time, Mei Sheng had fallen asleep.


There's an education area for kids, and besides being able to listen to the different kinds of sounds pandas make, there's a display about what panda poop looks like!


And here's a pretty good picture mother-and-son picture.


The San Diego Zoo is open daily and located on Zoo Boulevard in Balboa Park, north of downtown. They have a Wild Animal Park that Rachelle recommends (Gothamist didn't go because we were all-about-the-pandas). Here's an article by San Diego zoo keepers about panda enrichment and last week, Mei Sheng celebrated his first birthday. And some other pictures of our trip to the zoo on LAist.

You can watch the San Diego pandas via the Panda Cam. And if you want to visit a zoo closer to home, here's the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Central Park Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium.